A response from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas) to the BIS consultations: ‘Ballot thresholds in important public services’ and ‘Tackling intimidation of non-striking workers’.
Bpas is a health charity that provides care to 60,000 women a year on behalf of the NHS. Most of those women will have unplanned pregnancies and some will be considering ending a wanted pregnancy for other reasons. As part of our work we also advocate on behalf of women and our staff.
Pregnant women in the workplace
Bpas is deeply concerned that the proposals outlined in the consultations will negatively impact the rights of pregnant women in the workplace. As an organisation that cares for women across the country and in diverse settings we know that, for some pregnant women, work and financial stability are huge factors when deciding whether to continue a pregnancy.
Research carried out by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and your department recently found that ‘Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year.’ It is clear that despite legislation designed to protect them, pregnant women and new mothers can find their rights at work threatened and may need support of their trade union to ensure they are able to secure financial stability for their family. Any restriction in relation to ballot thresholds may make it more difficult for a minority group in the workplace to secure support and take action, although they are among the groups most likely to be discriminated against at work. The Government should reconsider making changes to trade union legislation which will most adversely affect some of the most vulnerable in the workplace.
Protest activity and Government policy
Anti-abortion activism targeted at women and staff outside abortion clinics has worsened significantly over the last five years. Despite repeated pleas for help the Government has consistently ignored bpas’ attempts to secure national guidance or new legislation that enables the police to tackle this increasingly prevalent activism. Given the serious impact this activity has on thousands of British women and hundreds of staff providing NHS services, it is extraordinary that the Government should act to restrict the rights of ordinary workers picketing outside their places of work while ignoring anti-abortion activism happening in the same spaces.
Bpas supports the rights of its workers to protest and believes intimidation outside our workplace is carried out by activists with extreme views rather than our staff. There is a distinction between protests conducted by workers and the type of activism which needs to be restricted outside workplaces. Pregnant women and healthcare staff would be better served if the Government shifted its focus to the activity causing demonstrable harm.
 Pregnancy and Maternity–related Discrimination and Disadvantage (2015) EHRC & BIS http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/Pregnancy-and-maternity-related-discrimination-and-disadvantage.pdf